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Cathy Opie: Geography Becomes Identity

Monday, Jan. 23: UCLA Architecture and Urban Design presented Cathy Opie to speak.

See a slideshow of some of Opie’s work here:

Cathy Opie’s lecture came to me as a surprise. As an admirer of Opie’s portraiture, in particular her portraiture of queer people around the U.S., I was really surprised to see her earlier work of Los Angeles highway scapes and city scapes. Now that I see this body of work that Opie had developed in the early 90’s such as “A long Way from Paris” or “L.A. Freeways” is really descriptive in building an identity narrative specific to geography. She is essentially practicing portraiture with physical spaces which I found to be a great way to unify her ability to document identity.

What I found most surprising is when she starting talking about how people are like these spaces. As in, the people she takes portraits of have developed the architecture of their bodies. They have constructed everything about how the body stands in the present based on identity. I further that these identities have been constructed based on choices made by economic conditions, utility, gender, social roles, etc. They way she applies the principle of contemporary architecture for a modern city and how it is a social thermometer for the social climate to how people use their bodies to use as building ground for the architecture that constructs them- to be a used as a personal indicator for what goes on in that space (being the body).

I appreciate the alertness she brings to the importance of bodies with respect to certain city scapes and vice-versa. In exploring this kind of documentation, we are more able to see the mutilation of bodies due to environment or mutilation of environment due to bodies. We able to more accurately depict a narrative that is more inclusive and one that details the performative nature of a variety of residents.

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